Living at the top

Hypothetically, imagine …if you win the grand lottery draw you may be overwhelmed by that momentary jubilation, but it would take some time to realize how much that occurrence will affect your life and the changes it will bring forth in your social and family life.
In the same vein in the pre-’96 era Sri Lanka were a Test playing nation for more than a decade and they were quite contended playing ‘minnow’ and not challenge the status-quo.

However upon former President Gamini Dissanayake’s sudden demise the then vice President Ana Punchihewa was thrust into the hot seat to take charge of the sails of cricket and the rest is common history in cricket’s good book of achievements. Nevertheless what I intend bringing out at this point is the slogan that Punchihewa bartered at that juncture -- “The Best Cricketing Nation by Year 2000”.

The then Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga holds aloft the Cricket World Cup when they beat Australia in the final in 1996 at Lahore. Now the Australians have lost the Ashes to England in England and Sri Lanka has replaced them as the second best in the Test rankings thus making this Sri Lanka’s biggest achievement in their Test history.

Taking the prevailing cricketing status at that time this statement was far too big for the Lankans and he was laughed at and scorned upon by a certain sector in the cricket community and even the press. But a year later when Sri Lanka surprised the entire World by brining home the plum of cricket the scorning died, but the promise was only partly delivered. Then a few days later when Punchihewa was thrown out of office unceremoniously by a cheap coup and the second part of the slogan of the past president stayed buried for long time.

However in the latter part of the first decade of the new millennium it seems that Sri Lankans have propped one side of the scale and it is the real form of Cricket – “Test version” where they have begun to excel very consistently.

Undoubtedly this is the best cricketing achievement that Sri Lanka has had since winning the World Cup in 1996. However to stay at this slot they would have to win this one Test match that is in progress and by today while you read this you would know what has really transpired from this point of writing and the present situation.

The Lankan ascendancy in Test cricket has been a gradual process. Sri Lanka last lost a series was in 2007 when they lost the hold on the Warne-Muralitharan Trophy to Australia 2-0 in a tie that was almost marred by a string of horrendous umpiring decisions that went mainly against Sri Lanka. Upon their return to Sri Lanka from the Australian excursion Sri Lanka beat England 3-1 in December 2007 and followed it up with their first Test win against the West Indies in the West Indies in March-April 2008. They drew the two match series 1-all.

Then the Lankans bullied the Indians with their new find Ajantha Mendis to beat them 2-1 in a three match tie in July-August 2008 and beat Bangladesh 2-0 in December 2008 and January 2009 to begin the New Year on a happy note.

Then the Lankans showed their bravado by undertaking to tour Pakistan in February March 2009. There Thilan Samaraweera shot them with the bat while the Pakistani militants really hailed the Lankan cricketers with a shower of bullets, thus halting the series on the last day of the second Test and the series ended without a win to either. Four months later Pakistan returned to the island for the second half of the back-to-back series and the home team greeted them with their maiden series win against them at home.

Ana Punchihewa

Now the first Test win against New Zealand and Australia leaving the ‘ashes’ back in England has put Sri Lanka ‘up where they belong’, but has it sunk into the whole nation that we have made it to the top?
To comment on the development we chose presently a rather subdued cricketing expert Sidath Wettimuny for his views. Wettimuny began commenting: “Yes, its great to be second in World rankings. I do believe the ranking system helps the ego of the cricketers and thus push them to do better in their respective fields.

“In the recent past we have been playing pretty decent cricket especially in the Test arena and I also feel that we have pretty decent talent in that forum too. Our bowling looks quite full with the seam department having a host of talent while the spin section also looks good with Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis now pairing off with veteran Muttiah Muralitharan.”

However the veteran cricket administrator saw one small leakage in the batting department. Wettimuny added “It is good to see the opening berth filling up with the pushing up of Dilshan to that slot and there the problem is almost over. Then Sangakkara, Jayawardena and Samaraweera along with Angelo Mathews have filled the batting line up. But, the flaw that I see is in the bench. What I am disappointed is that promising Chamara Kapugedera with all his talent has not lived up to his promise. If he is essentially a top order batsman, on and off he should be given the opportunity to go in the top order and bat when the situation permits. I saw Kapugedera having a string of good scores batting at the top against Pakistan in the warm-up games and they had a pretty decent bowling attack.

Then there are batsmen like Gihan Rupasinghe, who I have heard is pretty talented, and who should be exposed. Besides this I also heard that young Dinesh Chandimal also looks good for the future. I see we do have the talent, but, we do not have anyone prepared and shelf ready to put on show.” After Wettimuny we moved to Ana Punchihewa the former BCCSL President - the man who was the architect of the “Best Cricket playing nation by the year 200 concept”.

The former President was also elated by this development. He was also of the view that the present crew played good cricket, but the Lankans lagged a bit behind where the bench strength and the feeder points were concerned. He said: “We must delve into the reasons and make our bench strength strong enough to take up the challenges of present day cricket. But, we really are far behind where the feeder points are concerned. Punchihewa elaborated: “Even some prominent cricketers are of the view that Sri Lanka will keep discovering the Mendis and Dilshans on a regular basis, but that is too hypothetical.

wenty five years ago Sri Lanka boasted of the best school cricket team in the world. But, today we are being beaten by even Bangladesh on a regular basis. I feel this is one of the biggest drawbacks that is ailing our cricket. Even to put a simple building, one must have a strong foundation to hold it up”.

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